Hutt, rancor, sarlacc, ewoks: Return of the Jedi is full of fantastical creatures; it is the most infantile episode of the saga, the most fantasy one, with many aspects that unite it to a fairy tale; now that he has turned 40 we tell you the Star Wars movie from this point of view.
Imagine being ten years old, entering a cinema and finding yourself immersed in an incredible world like that of the galaxy far, far away created by George Lucas. It happened to an entire generation, which was forever tied to those worlds. Return of the Jedior, if you prefer, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jediha 40 years: it was released in American theaters on May 23, 1983. Even today, that we have plenty of Star Wars content, it is a pleasure to see that somewhat childish and artisanal film. It takes us back to when we were ten years old. And, of course, those who are now ten years old like it. And when kids like something, that’s a very good sign.
After the prototype, that science fiction film so different from all the others it had been Star Warsthat is to say Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hopeand the darkest episode of the whole saga, The empire strikes again, Return of the Jedi it is a chapter still different from the others. It is the episode that closes the first trilogy, that of the happy ending. And you can clearly see the desire to make it a more childish, boyish product, a fairy tale. Full of curious and fantastic creatures, beautifully made since there was no computer graphics at the time, it is the most fantasy film of the entire saga. A chapter that, after the first two, has dissatisfied a part of the public. But which retains an undoubted charm, even today.
Jabba and the rancor, the ogre and the bad wolf
Let’s think back to the beginning of the film, and when our heroes arrive at Tattooine to free Han Solo. Han is a prisoner of a criminal, Jabba The Hutt, a huge being that is a sort of snail without a shell, with two arms and no lower limbs. Ralph McQuarrie, design consultant at Industrial Light And Magic would later reveal: “In my drawings Jabba was huge, lithe, sort of ape-like figure. But then the design went in another direction and Jabba became more of a worm-like creature“. Arriving in his cave is like entering the lair of the Ogre of many fairy tales. Jabba has no psychology, he has no facets, he precisely has the task of frightening, frightening, just like the Ogre of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. In fairy tales, what is frightening is the monster, it is the unknown, the creature that we intuit and that we do not see completely at the beginning. And, in this sense, the same role is played by the rancor, a five-metre reptile that Jabba would like to feed Luke, who lives menacingly in a cave under Jabba’s lair. He is voracious, just like a typical fairy tale character, the Big Bad Wolf. Then, in The Book of Boba Fett series, we will see him in another light. But that’s another story.
The Empire Strikes Back: Is It Really the Best Movie in the Star Wars Saga?
The sarlacc, like the kraken in a pirate tale
And again, once out of Jabba’s cave, again by his order, we will be led to end up as a meal at the sarlacc, one of the most dangerous, rare and mysterious figures in the galaxy. Even the sarlacc has to do with ancestral fears, with legends. The sarlacc stands at world of star wars what the kraken is to pirate stories: huge, scary and – once again – unknown. The sarlacc is a sand creature that apparently takes thousands of years to digest its victims. It is very large, one hundred meters long, and what we see appearing from the sand are only its mouth and tentacles. And not seeing the whole monster is something that, every time, creates disquiet (the monster movie that was to come has learned its lesson, see Cloverfield by JJ Abrams or the latest Godzilla by Gareth Edwards). Speaking of krakens and pirate tales, it’s no coincidence that ours arrive on a sailing galleon…
The moon of Endor and the ewoks: like the wood and the seven dwarfs
Ma la Story of Return of the Jedi takes us to another place, the forest moon of Endor, where the energy that keeps the space shield active that prevents the rebels from attacking the Death Star is located. The moon of Endor is another key place in any fairy tale, namely the wood. From Little Red Riding Hood to Snow White, every story of this type has seen a forest to cross, with dangers, fears and even saving presences. It is in this sense that we can see the Kwok, little creatures so tender to conquer children, but also perfect allies to achieve their goal. A bit like the Seven Dwarfs from the fairy tale. And it’s no coincidence that they find their Snow White, Princess Leia, who is also their Sleeping Beauty, since she passed out after falling during a fight. Ewoks are very captivating creatures, halfway between bipedal bears and large Yorkshire puppies, one meter tall and with thick fur. Their language was created by Ben Burtt, the great man behind all the sounds in the world of Star Wars. Initially, the central battle of Return of the Jedi was supposed to take place on the planet of the gods wookiee, but then Lucas decided to create a new species. And since the wookiees were different, he made the ewoks short. But he wanted a primitive tribe to defeat the Empire.
Star Wars movies: in which (chronological) order to see them
The ewoks and the controversy
If, like an entire generation, you have seen Return of the Jedi at the cinema at ten, you can’t help but love the ewoks. But these cute little creatures are the ones who have created the most controversy around the film. Many fans of the saga have always thought that their victory over the Empire was hardly credible. But we can really talk about credibility in a world like that of Star Wars? Isn’t the suspension of disbelief one of the key pacts between director and spectator, especially in a film genre like this? Other criticisms were leveled because the ewoks were seen as simply a move to induce market opportunity, to bring children closer together and sell more toys. The same fate, indeed much worse, would have befallen Jar Jar Binks, protagonist of Star Wars ep. I – The Phantom Menace. Of course, talking about the market today, that the saga is in the hands of Disney, makes you smile.
The first of many fantasy
But the world of George Lucas it has always been this: funny, tender beings, who know how to become Jedi masters, or skilled warriors. The wookiees and the ewoks, but basically also Yoda and now our dear Grogu from The Mandalorian. Appearance doesn’t matter. We could see Return of the Jedi like a fairy tale, as mentioned, or even like an early fantasy film. There the Star Wars saga has always been a very particular way of doing science fiction, very close to fantasy, and Return of the Jedi it is the film that accentuates this aspect the most. Richard Marquand’s film, produced by Lucas (but let’s not forget that David Lynch could have been directed, and then David Cronenberg, and who knows what turn the story would have taken), in the 1980s other lucky fantasy would have followed. Let’s talk about movies like The Neverending Story, Legend, Labyrinth e Willow, which was indeed a Lucasfilm production. Fantasy, at the end of the 1980s, would then disappear, to return to vogue at the beginning of the 2000s with the saga of The Lord of the Rings, a more adult, darker way of making fantasy. But with some underlying themes that are the same as in the world of Star Wars.